strange_complex: (Gatto di Roma)
People who don't have much time should probably learn how to write short film reviews. Let's see how I get on with that...

This was a recent purchase of [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan's, which has also been in the 'high priority' section of my Lovefilm list for a while, and which we watched together. It is a Universal picture starring both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, and is based very, very loosely indeed on Edgar Allan Poe's short story of the same name. When I say loosely, I mean that it contains a black cat, and involves a dead wife, but otherwise it has pretty much nothing to do with the original whatsoever.

Stylistically, it is a Gothic horror, involving such motifs as a dark and stormy night, an innocent young couple finding themselves trapped in a dangerous situation, a hill-top house, an apparently-charming host with malevolent intentions, a decades-old personal feud, the supernaturally-preserved corpses of beautiful women, the afore-mentioned black cat, and some Satanic rituals. Yet at the same time it is more profoundly concerned with the issues of its present day than any other Universal film I have seen. It's often forgotten that Universal tended to translate their Gothic stories to a present-day setting, and it's forgotten for the perfectly good reason that apart from putting the leading ladies in 1930s frocks, this makes almost no difference whatsoever to the setting, action or dialogue. But this film is basically all about the hangover horror of the First World War, and the impact it had on the lives of those who survived it.

Thankfully, this aspect of the film is discussed in detail in this excellent blog post, saving me the trouble! But the executive summary is that Lugosi's character had suffered terrible wrongs at the hands of Karloff's during the war, they are both still psychologically trapped reliving their old feud and the horrors of the war, and the main setting for the film is a luxurious modernist house built directly over a concrete First World War fortress and only thinly veiling the horrors concealed below. It is also one of the first horror films to do any of this so clearly and directly, a full 20 years after the war had broken out, which says quite a lot about how difficult it is for any society to process and assimilate true horror on that sort of scale enough to weave it into its stories. Once it had happened, though, it was very powerful - or so we felt. Had the exact same story of personal feuds, dead wives and Satanic rituals been told in a more traditionally Gothic setting, it probably would have seemed fairly run-of-the-mill and unoriginal, but the engagement with recent history gave it an urgent emotive power which we were really struck by.

Other than that, the film's main stand-out features include some very beautiful frocks, absolute flying sparks in the confrontations between Lugosi and Karloff (an epic pairing which would make the film worth watching on its own, regardless of anything else), and some completely mad cod-Latin from Karloff in the climactic Satanic ritual, which is basically not a Satanic ritual at all, but a load of proverbs cobbled together with no concern whatsoever for what they might actually mean. This is of course an interesting insight into Universal's estimation of their audiences in the 1930s, who were clearly not expected to notice this. In fact, it reminded me of the All Purpose Latin After-Dinner Speech from Henry Beard's book Latin for Even More Occasions - and as such made the film a lot more fun than it would have been if someone had sat down and written a SRS BSNS ritual for the scene.

Only down side - our sympathies are clearly meant to lie with Lugosi's character rather than Karloff's, since Lugosi has spent 15 years in a Hungarian prison camp during which time Karloff has stolen both his wife and his daughter and built himself the luxury house where the action takes place. But this was scotched for me very early on by a scene set in a train carriage, which sees Lugosi reaching out to stroke the hair of a sleeping woman who is a stranger to him. This transpires to be because she reminds him of his lost wife, and seems to have been intended to convey the tragic suffering of his character - but for me it just set off Extreme Creep Alarms which meant I could never really fall into the role of cheering for and sympathising with him which the rest of the film seemed to expect of me.

Other than that, though, top notch stuff, and very definitely a must-see for anyone interested in the direction which horror films were taking in the mid-1930s.

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strange_complex: (Gatto di Roma)
For the first time in a good couple of months, this coming weekend is completely blank for me. Nothing booked up whatsoever. And while having fun things to do most weekends is great and I wouldn't want to change that, every now and again a weekend which I can just spend pottering at home is very welcome. Apart from anything else, it gives me a chance to get caught up on some unwritten LJ posts - and that still includes the final day of the Bradford Fantastic Films Weekend. Previous posts cover the Friday and Saturday, both of which were very enjoyable. But in fact the Sunday was the real highlight for me - mainly thanks to my first ever experience of proper full-blown Cinerama!

22. The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), dir. Henry Levin and George Pal

See, every year at the Fantastic Films Weekend, there is one event which really stays with me. Last year, it was Jonathan Miller, the year before it was The Sorcerers, and this year it was The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. I can't be sure how much I'd have liked this film if it had been shot in traditional fashion. It certainly takes sugary and sentimental to their logical extreme, in a way that only American technicolor films of the early '60s really know how. But then again, it's a charming period piece with some great character actors, fundamentally concerned with the magic of story-telling and making good use of music, settings and special effects to achieve that. So, yeah, I guess I'd have kinda liked it even if it weren't for the Cinerama - but it was the experience of that obsolete technology which really made me fall in love with it.

The wonderful world of Cinerama )

Innovative-obsolete technology and the Brothers Grimm )

A fairytale biopic )

Genre bleeding )

23. The Shadow of the Cat (1961), dir. John Gilling

Finally, rounding off my weekend of not-actually-horror-films was The Shadow of the Cat. This is a Hammer film, although it doesn't feature the studio's name anywhere in the credits, and so tends to get overlooked as part of their output. Like Saturday afternoon's film, The Man in Black, it's another murder mystery, this time revolving around a family pet cat )

In the end, though, the best thing about this film was marvelling at how much time and effort must have gone into setting up all the necessary shots of the cat running up to certain characters for a stroke, jumping out at others, going up or down the stairs at the right moment, padding purposefully towards the place where the old lady's body had been buried etc. On a very small number of occasions a model cat with glowing eyes was used to peer sinisterly through people's bedroom windows, but for most of the film the cat was clearly played by a perfectly ordinary real animal. In a plot which revolved so much around the particular behaviour of the cat, I imagine there must have been a great deal of just sitting around filming it until it did the right thing, as well as large teams of people just out of shot tempting it in particular directions with tasty tit-bits. And to be fair the results were pretty impressive, creating a genuine impression of a cat which had a real agenda behind its actions. But I'm betting a lot of people finished this film with a firm resolution never, ever to work with animals ever again!

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strange_complex: (Me Art Deco)
Three years ago, I had just moved into my current house, and jointly celebrated that event and my 31st birthday with a 1920s and '30s-themed housewarming party. Lots of my friends and colleagues came along, as did some of the cheekier neighbourhood cats, and a marvellous time indeed was had.

This year, I decided it was time for a similar celebration to mark my 34th birthday (which is actually on Monday this year), but this time based around a barbecue and without the period theme. 'Cos dressing up is fun, but you can't do the same thing every time. A man turned up from Sainsbury's with eight boxes full of STUFF at 10 o'clock on Saturday morning, and I sprang into action - chopping vegetables, marinading meat, threading things onto skewers and (most importantly) mixing cocktails!

The weather looked decidedly shady for most of the day, but thankfully around 3pm rays of sunshine started to appear, and by the time my first few guests arrived the skies were blue and almost cloudless. My colleague's children ran around the garden while we got the barbecues going (two of them, because they were only diddy ones), and began grilling the first few burgers. And after that everything became a bit of a blur as people arrived, and handed me presents and cards, and I whirled around the place making sure everyone had drinks and introducing people to each other and so forth. But it was a very nice blur! I just have a kind of vague general impression of being surrounded by lovely people all being witty and sociable and exciting and beautiful all around me, and lots of hugs and laughter and (though I say it myself) delicious food and so forth.

Around 9ish it began drizzling a little, but that was OK really, as most people had finished with the barbecues by then, so we just carried on the party inside. An interesting spontaneous gender division occurred, as most of the ladies present ended up in the kitchen discussing various types of relationships, while most of the gentlemen were in the dining room discussing joke websites. But hey - both rooms seemed to be having an awesomely good time, so that is fine. Then around 11ish most of the further-flung guests decided it was about time they started their journeys home, so the scene shifted again to a more intimate gathering of myself, [livejournal.com profile] ant_girl, [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy, chilling out in the lounge discussing serial killers for another hour or so.

And now this morning, here I am browsing through last night's photos, eating delicious Belgian chocolates which somebody gave me and generally basking in the afterglow of a most excellent evening. Many thanks to everyone who came, and especially those who helped keep an eye on the barbecue, which I could not really have managed on my own alongside meeting and greeting everyone and generally being the charming hostess. I'm slightly delicate today, and unlikely to move terribly far from the sofa, but it was definitely all worth it. Give me another three years, and I might be ready to do it again... ;-)

Photos follow under the cut )

Oh, and if anyone wants the recipe for the marsala peaches we had, and on which I got several compliments, Delia is your lady. I shall be enjoying the few which were left over with my lunch today. :-)

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strange_complex: (Sleeping Hermaphrodite)
I'm back from Verona. Very tired, but I had a brilliant time. In theory, I've gone all the way back through LJ to where I left off before I flew out, but it meant going back to skip=260, so it was very much skim-reading.

I'll post a proper report tomorrow, but in essence, after the initial flight cancellation tedium, it was all good. Students fine, my opposite number in Verona a real sweet-heart and very enthusiastic host, Verona wonderful, hotel welcoming, food excellent, and I have been to Venice! Wow.

In all honesty, I'd rather still be there than back in Britannia. But the good news is that the weather there is exactly as horrid as it is here, so I do not need to feel I am missing the sunshine. Only the warm internal glow of Italy and its people. :-(

I have many pictures, but for now you just get my favourite two:

My little friend from the theatre in Verona )

Have you hugged a tetrarch today? )

strange_complex: (Purple and black phone)
I am sat in the Roman theatre, watching the sunset, with a cat on my lap. In Italy, wherever there are Roman remains, there are cats, too.

Holiday snaps

Wednesday, 5 September 2007 15:19
strange_complex: (Hastings camera)
Right - it's time we had this canal holiday in pictures, then.

Warning - there are 86 of them )

Activity

Wednesday, 22 December 2004 20:14
strange_complex: (Penny Crayon)
Photos by [livejournal.com profile] angeoverhere have now been gratefully incorporated into the web page for our Christmas meal on Saturday.

I had to start today with an emergency trip to a nearby branch of Waterstone's to change a present I bought yesterday, which its intended recipient turned out already to have. But that's been done successfully now, and the replacement book should be appreciated.

Meanwhile, at home, we've been preparing for a party to be hosted by my parents tomorrow night. We've done this a couple of times before, previously on Christmas Eve itself, but this year it is to be the 23rd, because many of my Mum's friends can't make the 24th. I'm really looking forward to it, because I love Christmas parties anyway, and I shall also get to see two dear friends: Amy and Fleur WINOLJ. I'll also at last get to meet Amy's new baby daughter, Holly, who was born in July, but whom I've so far seen only in pictures: picture like these, in fact.

In preparation for the party, I have today:
  • decorated our tree
  • vacuumed the whole of the downstairs
  • swept the hall floor, which is wooden
  • cooked some cocktail sausages
  • stuck an orange full of cloves ready for the mulled wine (slurp!)
  • painted my toe-nails gold
  • hung up a wicker ball thing with bits of vegetation sticking out of it over the front door
  • basted pears cooked in red wine sauce by my Mum
  • worked out how many verses we will sing of various carols (for yes, it will be a musical evening also)
The cat was a significant hazard during activities 1 and 4, but we have so far managed to neutralise the danger by distracting her with alternative activities / food.

Later this evening, my sister will arrive by train from London to join the family for Xmas, so we shall be able to stay up late giggling and doing sisterly things. Hurrah!

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